Harbin resident Ann Prehn — long-time editor of the quarterly print publication — provides an ongoing glimpse behind the scenes of our retreat center in this new Harbin blog. Check in regularly for insights into our history, consciousness, creativity, growth, spirituality, and the universe around us. To contact Ann, e-mail email@example.com.
It will take some time to get used to Elke being gone. No, she didn’t die, she just moved back to Germany to recover from the death of her beloved husband Neil and to be with her aging parents. Not only do we miss her personally, we also miss her professionally.
Professional is the word for Elke Ney Murphy. (So is sweet, sincere, and compassionate!) For almost fourteen years, she has been one of the visible Managing Directors at Harbin. It was she that sat in the Main Office and oversaw reception and guest services, as well as outreach to the public. She had an impact on our history. During her time Harbin morphed from an amateur operation to a world-known healing and retreat center, yet still maintaining its uniquely alternative character.
Elke had been traveling the world when she arrived at Harbin as a guest twenty years ago, in August of 1993. Back then Harbin had a work-exchange program and she worked in the Garden with Prem. In October the same year she returned to Harbin - this time to stay. “I did not come to live in the United States, but in Harbin; the community, the waters and the beautiful nature were drawing me.”
“I was glad to be accepted, and just wanted to contribute to this wonderful place.” After one and a half years in housekeeping, and serving part time as a massage practitioner on staff, Elke got involved as a volunteer with organizing classes for candidates. She also had a wonderfully romantic courtship with Managing Director Neil Murphy, and in March of 1995, at the Solstice, they were married. In memorable Harbin style, the couple invited everyone at Harbin to their fabulously elegant wedding in the Conference Center.
Now thoroughly committed to being here, Elke threw herself body and soul into anything where she could make a difference. And make a difference she did. In 1995, there was a temporary manager, Grace Jones, in what would eventually become the Health Services Department. Grace had been in the job for a couple of months when she handed a cardboard box of files to Elke – “She’s all yours, Baby!” So without any training and no office, Elke took over massage management. ”I worked out of our home on Shady Lane. Neil and I shared a one-room place, and I made one corner my office; meetings were held on the deck. I even had a computer there (my first) – and learned Excel to make spread sheets.” After a lot of cajoling, she finally got an office in the Redwood building.
During this time, Elke was also getting to know Harbin’s founder, Ishvara. He and Ranjita (at the time) were on the testing committee for new therapists. Her first impressions of him: “He was smart and eccentric, and kept you on your toes. His challenges were meant to expose your weaknesses and help you grow. He could be abrupt, but he was usually right. And over time, he got gentler.”
In approximately 2-1/2 years, Elke transformed massage. The Redwood building was by now totally dedicated to bodywork, and is where guests and residents can get quiet massages near the pools from some 40 – 50 bodywork practitioners.
With such a stunning success in a previously impossible department, Elke was naturally asked to take over Reception. Elke hesitated, seeing the job as going from the frying pan to the fire. But Loren had left to take on the Workshops Department, Eme was poised to take on Health Services, and a new challenge was waiting. Again, she was thrown in with no training (“I got a crash course from Steve”), into a department that she’d never worked in with different and unintegrated softwares at the Office and the Front Gate.
The first thing Elke did was get raises for the staff, treating them like professionals. It paid off. The Reception staff worked great as a team and the standard of service improved. She remembers Ishpa and Janelle on the front desk , and Marilyn, Eric and Rosemary at the Gate (to mention just a few of the great staff). The Managing Directors at that time, Sajjad, Julie, Neil Murphy and Steve, had offices in the same building. Elke really liked her job and her team! She hired Drew as her assistant and got the Reception software integrated with the Gate. Within a year, the place was running smooth as hot spring water.
So of course, a few years later, Elke was invited to become a Managing Director.
Again, she hesitated. Was she taking on too much? That’s easy to do at Harbin, where the rule seems to be, “If you want something done, get a busy person to do it.” When Neil Murphy quit to take over the Restaurant in 1999, and Loren declined the position, Elke Murphy became a Managing Director, in charge of electricity conservation among other tasks. For two years, Elke was both Reception Manager and a Managing Director. She’d been right – it was too much. “Reception needs a full-time manager,” she said, and gave the job to her assistant Drew.
Her advice to her successor, “Find a niche which you love and become good at it. Then you can truly make a difference.” For Elke, it was guest services: “My goal was to lift our ‘service consciousness’ and still be authentic.” She hired a guest services trainer, and now there is an ongoing, internal program in place. Her responsibilities included marketing and PR – as well as researching alternative energy and conservation.
About energy conservation: ”We have over 40 different accounts, and we are constantly growing. The highest usage is on Mainside, difficult to monitor. I was in contact with many energy consultants. We managed to make a difference in the office building by having thermostats and fans installed. Most important is educating people to not waste energy.”
About alternative energy solutions: ”I had the place tested for solar. That research proved disappointing. We found that, since we’re in an East-facing horseshoe, there is no place that receives long enough sunlight to make a difference. Solar needs a Southwest facing. The best place is up high on the mountain at the Domes.” Elke decided that something is better than nothing, and a trial array was put up near the warehouse. Some years later, an array of solar panels was finally installed in the Domes parking lot. “Solar was expensive at the time, so we kept it small to take advantage of a discount being offered.” It is possible to extend it further up the mountain above the Domes, eventually. For now, people are happy to be able to park their cars in its shade.
Hydro was not a feasible option. “Not enough consistent pressure,” she says bluntly. “What Harbin needs is more consciousness of consumption, that’s for sure. It would be a good thing if someone took that on.”
Elke’s going to be a hard act to follow. We still don’t know who her successor will be. For whoever it is, Elke left some advice:
- “Sajjad is a good role model. He knows how to prioritize. And he will take on whatever is needed: he becomes educated on the issue, looks at every angle (including consequences for the future), and weighs carefully any possible solution, before bringing the issue to the larger group for decision making. He sees the ‘big picture’.
- “With power comes responsibility. The more power you have, the smaller your ego needs to be. To me, working as a director is spiritual work.
- “Forgive and forget and move on. There is the larger wisdom of the group and you need to respect each other. Everyone has qualities.
- “Always do good. Coach people gently, help them to improve.
- “Harbin is a soup bowl. We shouldn’t be isolated. Reach out to the larger community. Find out how others are doing it.
- “The world is changing so fast – keep up with social media.”
“Community living is so important,” she went on, “and needs to be thriving. Harbin was intended as a transient community, but now residents want to stay. The benefits of this are more stability in departments and higher quality of service. Now the issue of aging needs to be addressed. Maybe to think about a Living Facility of some sort. Harbin could be a model. All over the world, it’s an issue.”
Finally, Elke had some words to share about her own future. “I don’t know what the future holds. I’m grateful for having time to just be.” At 89, her parents are still healthy but restricted in their activities. “They are so glad to have me home.”
Elke says she misses us, too, and wishes Harbin all the best. And she wants to assure us that for her, “It’s all good. I’m at the right place.”
By Chas August
Have you ever noticed those people coming up from the Conference Center to the Harbin pools, happily talking and laughing and hugging each other? Wonder what’s making them so joyful? Those are HAI workshoppers enjoying the unique beauty, serenity, healing waters, historic grounds, and spirit-centered experience of Harbin.
A Bit of History
Way back in mid-August of 1968, (before some of you were born, not as old as some of my neckties) a 39-year-old Chicago-area radio pro named Stan Dale noticed that his callers wanted to talk about sex and intimacy, but his bosses at the radio wouldn’t let him talk about those taboo topics on the air. Stan took the huge step to invite his listeners to join him for a weekend of informative, heart-opening, sex-positive celebration that he called “The Sex Workshop.” Part lecture, part exercises, part sharing, Stan created an event to help people explore, experience and talk about this very human, yet very hidden activity – SEX.
Stan used to say it was as if he had found a big beautiful gem lying on the path in front of him and he picked it up and began to polish it. That gem was HAI, and we’ve been polishing it for 45 years.
In 1972, after being pushed out of his radio show in Chicago for being too supportive of the anti-war movement, Stan picked up and moved to Santa Rosa, California. He brought his radio show to KIOI, then KSFO, and ultimately KGO. And he began looking for a home for his workshops. He needed someplace special — a place that would be open to clothing-optional workshops, conducive to deep personal exploration, with room to grow along with Stan’s expansive vision of “creating a world where everyone wins.” After a couple of years at Orr Hot Springs, Stan found Harbin Hot Springs and Harbin embraced Stan and HAI.
HAI, Harbin and Stonefront
“The Sex Workshop” came to Harbin’s Stonefront Building in 1979. From the beginning, Harbin staff graciously worked with Stan, and his wives Helen and Janet, to create a space for the workshops. Harbin knocked down walls and laid some carpet, enlarging the library area for the exercises and sleeping space for the participants and made small bedroom for Stan, Helen and Janet Dale and the team to sleep in and meet in.
Having a “team” to support the work was a relatively new development for the workshops. Stan had been concerned that having a team would take his attention away from the participants. When HAI came to Harbin there were only 6 Interns (volunteer team members). Along with HAI’s new home, the Intern “experiment” expanded to 12 volunteers, 6 Master Interns and 6 Interns, helping support the 20 or so participants at each of 12 workshops per year.
Stonefront was homey and welcoming, but had its limitations. In 1979, Stonefront had only one bathroom available to the workshop, so everyone got pretty creative around biological functions. Workshoppers, team and participants became one big, happy family taking turns in shower and sharing the sink. In 1980, Harbin added a downstairs shower and toilet, but the space was still quite “cozy.”
Saturday nights of the workshop were (and still are) a time for everyone to entertain each other, then have a short dance party. If you’ve been in the Stonefront Building, picture the stairway landing (by the kitchen) as the “stage” with the audience sitting below.
The Stan Dale Conference Center
Harbin was the perfect home for the workshops and HAI and the workshops thrived, quickly outgrowing the space available in Stonefront. In 1982 Ishvarra offered Stan the opportunity to hold The Sex Workshops in the then brand new and much larger conference center (recently named the “Stan Dale Conference Center”). Harbin and HAI helped each other to grow, and benefitted from each others’ growth.
Stan Dale was a man of boundless confidence and limitless good cheer, a man who loved life and loved everyone he met. According to his wife Janet, in his entire life he only had one nightmare. The night before the first workshop in the conference center Stan dreamt he was standing in that big room and there were no participants. Fortunately, it was not a premonition.
HAI has grown from twelve workshops a year at Harbin to 30 or more per year, and more than seventy a year worldwide. The workshops have served countless Harbin residents and guests, and have brought thousands of people to experience Harbin. Harbin and HAI have continued to grow, and grow together.
Stan died in 2007, but his legacy lives on, as does HAI’s special relationship with Harbin. In 2008 Harbin erected a plaque naming the Conference Center “The Stan Dale Conference Center” in recognition of the man who brought so many people to this amazing place and brought so much love and growth and fulfillment to the people who have experienced HAI.
Not Just A Weekend, A Community
There are now nine levels of HAI “Love, Intimacy and Sexuality” workshops. As we have added new levels and new leaders, the HAI community has grown from a couple dozen curious people in a ballroom in Chicago, to tens of thousands of HAI grads that have shared a weekend with us at the Harbin Stan Dale Conference Center, to thousands more who have attended a HAI workshop at one of our other locations around the world. HAI communities put on events for HAI workshop graduates to continue to share the experience that many of them first had at the Harbin Stan Dale Conference Center.
If you haven’t experienced the love and connection of our HAI workshops, or if it’s been awhile since you were in our “room of love”, please join us for our “Love is a Miracle” weekend workshop at Harbin. You can find a schedule of our workshops on the Harbin website or at hai.org.
About the Author
Chas August has been involved with the Human Awareness Institute since his first visit to Harbin and HAI in 1989. He has volunteered with and worked for HAI in various capacities and is currently Director Of Marketing for HAI, NorCal. Chas is also a personal growth coach and counselor, helping people experience personal growth and change in the areas of intimacy and sexuality, discover passion, heal anger, and improve communication skills. chasaugust.com firstname.lastname@example.org
By Lokita Carter
Truthfully, I never thought that I would ever get married! Marriage seemed such a doomed relationship model with its “until death do us part” commitment, and the ironclad sexual contract. I was always a free spirit (still am, actually), exploring life and loving as a single woman, and within different couple styles.
The most important thing is to keep our relationship fresh. It is so easy to become complacent and settle into a comfortable routine of relating! Being in sacred space and sacred time together gives us the opportunity to be fully present with what is now, and to co-create what feels best for the moment. We have done the sacred space ritual thousands of times over the years, and each time – yes, every single time – there is something new and fresh that is said, experienced, and seen. It is amazing how the same practice over and over again can bring a different result every time! And the added beauty of such simple practice is that its effects continue long after.
As a married couple we are not separate from the rest of the world. Attractions to other people are a natural part of life and our commitment to an exclusive sexual relationship does not suddenly make that go away! But how do we handle it? For us, an essential preliminary to every tantric practice is communicating our desires, fears and boundaries. Someone once told me that since I had boundaries, I was not a “real tantrika”. (I suspect he said it to lure me into his bed!). According to him, boundaries are limitations and hence “unspiritual”, and that I was “untantric”.
Steve and I define boundaries differently: a boundary delineates a playing field. It creates a container within which we are free to explore and delight to our hearts’ content, in trust and respect of our agreements with each other.
So to me, being in a monogamous marriage means that I can honor myself, and at the same time honor my husband and our relationship by being true to our joint desires, fears and boundaries. They might need to be restated and adjusted from time to time, and clear communication is the key.
Being married, living and working together 24/7 for almost 15 years, getting used to each other is a natural byproduct. Taking each other for granted. Thinking that I know everything about Steve. But as a SkyDancer, I endeavor to elevate myself above all that as much as possible. Remembering that Steve is a god, a representation of the divine mystery, a tantric Shiva, helps me to move beyond any boring daily routines and stale ways of being together and relating to him. Simply shifting the perspective on how I see my husband invigorates my Shakti energy, and also helps me rise above the mundane of everyday life together into immediate presence and connection. I can look beyond the “stuff” and see the divine in him and in our union.
Being intensely committed to the tantric path – teaching it together full time, living and practicing it as a couple, embodying it as individuals – is the major reason why we continue to be together in this marriage. And while I had been rather skeptical about the marriage model before, looking back at all these years of marriage with Steve I can honestly say that I am happier than ever before! We have forged a path for ourselves that continues to nourish us and helps us grow in many ways — and not only us, but all those who attend our workshops!
Lokita Carter teaches Tantra together with her husband Steve. Read more about their Ecstatic Living Institute at www.ecstaticliving.com or see their Harbin workshop offerings here: http://www.harbin.org/workshops/upcoming-workshops/
If you’re a Harbin regular, you’ve doubtless joined Harbin residents in enjoying our activities. You’ve gone to meals, shows, and parties with us and we’ve gotten
to know you as one of the family. This is our home and you’re our welcomed guest. So it must have seemed odd, one Wednesday night, when you joined a resident dinner in the restaurant and then were discouraged from following us upstairs for an after-dinner show – it was “residents only”. You must have wondered at how the room roared loudly with hilarity and laughter that reverberated down the staircase. You must have been curious. And sadly, you must have felt left out.
Well, beloved guest, weep no more! Thanks to Jessica Sage, our new Events Co-ordinator whose professional theater and television experience began practically in the cradle, you will no longer have to press your nose against the glass. We now have a summer theater outdoors in the Garden – and this time, everyone’s invited! The Harbin-themed shows you missed before, written by the uniquely talented Eric Richardson, will be performed by the Harbin Players every week-end all summer!
Thrill as workshop leaders and gurus lead you through the nuances of the New Age! Marvel as Harbin counselors and body-workers fix all your problems! Weep as sage advice is dispensed with Oprah-like insight to the lovelorn! You will leave the theater wiser – and jollier! – than when you went in. If you were wondering what the Heart Consciousness Church is all about, now you’ll know. And, you will have a new perspective on those things that happen “Only at Harbin”.
Don’t forget to bring something ($10) for the collection plate!
[Excerpted from his book, Oneness in Living, available from the Harbin bookstore and Amazon.]
I was born Robert F. Hartley in a wealthy, socially advantaged family. I had the best of private education, but was tied in knots from social inadequacy and sexual frustration. I was so scared of girls I never kissed one goodnight until about 25. At Harvard College, I was on probation and was almost expelled. My social and financial advantages felt like disadvantages, for they came with a huge burden of expectation I felt incapable of meeting.
Gradually, my life changed. While at Columbia, I spent three years in psychoanalysis and was president of the small International Students Club. At 27 I went to Mexico, hoping to use my study of international economic development to get a job or join a business. Legal obstacles against North Americans made it impossible to find employment, so while I was deciding what to do next, I started reading. I devoured the books of Erich Fromm [who] became my first real teacher, leading me to Zen, to my first experiments in meditation, and to Alan Watts and Fritz Perls. Wide-ranging study and practice of psychology, philosophy, and spirituality became my main path and remained so until my middle fifties.
At 31 I became involved in the movement to create schools like the Summerhill School in England. Part of my stock market profits went to support one such school and to start another, where I went to live and teach.
Fritz Perls, who founded Gestalt Therapy, was the most exciting author I had read. I had tried two times to move to where he was, to Miami and to Los Angeles, only to find that he had moved on. Now he was at the Esalen Institute on the California coast and my move to Berkeley was partly to be near him. I realized that he would not spend time teaching a psychological mess like me, I needed to make myself ready for him.
In Berkeley, I attended all sorts of encounter and other groups, the best of which was a “Gestalt Encounter Group.” I thought the leader was a genius, until I found that the genius was in the new techniques Perls had invented and described in his new book, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. While his previous writings had been primarily theoretical, this book focused on these new, amazingly effective practical methods.
The discovery of these techniques began a very creative period for me. I worked alone with my dreams by alternating roles with a tape recorder. First I would be the client and tell my dream to the recorder. Then, as therapist, I would listen to the recorded dream, and give and tape an instruction. As client, I would listen to the instruction and carry it out. Taping everything, I would alternate these two roles until the work was finished. This system allowed me to record my dreams when I woke up and work on them later, and I could review and critique both roles whenever I wanted.
With this method, I did not have to worry about incorrect therapeutic interpretations or what the therapist thought of me. I could act stupid or crazy and do embarrassing things whenever the therapy called for it. There were no head-trips about projections onto the therapist, just resolution of inner conflicts. If there is a single event that changed me from being a psychologically troubled person to a person who could resolve problems and move beyond them, it was this self-therapy.
The teachers at the Gestalt Therapy Institute asked to have one of their teachers guide me privately, and I agreed. She approved what I was doing and recommended me as a trainee. The training was a series of group sessions with a few teaching pointers added. It was very helpful, but not nearly as important as my self-therapy and individual sessions with students. Most other trainees were more interested in how they looked than in serious work on themselves, for which you have to be willing to look like an idiot.
I emphasize the Gestalt Therapy period of my life because it changed me from being an inhibited person to a powerful one. It radically revised my idea of what I could accomplish and taught me to adapt to an accelerated rate of growth and development, a rate that has continued and accelerated ever since.
I had bought Harbin Hot Springs in April 1972, but did not move there until June 1973, for it had no housing suitable for my wife and two daughters. The Summerhill-type school I had helped to create and where I had lived was foundering, so I had to act to protect my investment. The school had 120 students and 60 staff, so it was a significant operation, though it had changed from a Summerhill orientation to a medical one. I made substantial changes, but at a much slower pace than I thought necessary. My wife was very unhappy to be back, and my kids did not like it either. Moving back to Green Valley School pretty much broke my marriage.
When I bought Harbin Hot Springs, it was a run-down mess. The health department had thrown out the previous occupant, a commune, and the property had been thoroughly vandalized. There were seven inches of debris on all the floors made up of broken glass from the windows and paper from the short-lived commune newspaper called the Harbinger, which was centered on LSD and UFO’s.
After having been owner at the Florida school and in some other situations, I did not want to live in a community as the property owner. I called a meeting of those who seemed interested in more than a place to live, six in all, and we decided what kind of place it was to be. I created Heart Consciousness Church in 1975 and donated the property to it. After the first few months, I was its secretary and later its president.
While progress at Harbin Hot Springs was rapid to most people, it was slow compared to my dreams. I did not feel fulfilled. Years earlier I had said, ostensibly jokingly, that my ambition was to be both a Buddha and a billionaire. I had given up personal fortune, but I was creating wealth for Heart Consciousness Church. The Buddha part was not happening.
Yogeshwar Muni taught Kundalini Yoga, which had interested me for years, but I had never met anyone who really knew about it. From my reading it seemed the highest and most powerful form of Yoga, avoided for that reason by most yoga students and teachers.
After nine months of practicing, what he then described as kundalini awoke, and I was on my way to more advanced stages. I was now meditating eight hours per day, which he said was the maximum one should do. Two and a half years after I started, I was told of secret practices that rapidly took me past the next two stages. In my fifth year, I went through a very difficult stage which made me sicker and weaker than ever before in my life, but I continued to practice.
After four more years, I was feeling stuck. An excellent psychic said I would die soon if I continued what I was doing. Other psychics said similar but less threatening things. Later I learned that I was making a serious error: in trying to follow what I thought was an instruction, I was forcing rather than surrendering. In these circumstances, I eased up my meditation, so I thought, but I was wrong again and was actually stopping it.
Without the heavy drag of purification induced by my meditation, my life became more active, and in 1989 I was married again. In early 1994, Yogeshwar Muni returned to the United States and gave a seminar on his yoga. My previous errors became clear and I resumed my meditation… and continue at an even more intense level today.
Meditating is now my biggest activity. It has so much momentum, I cannot imagine being without it.
When I was young I wanted to undertake the greatest and noblest work I could find, especially if no one else was doing it. I did not expect to blaze trails in the spiritual realm, because others seemed so much more qualified – I would have been laughed at to think otherwise! The book Summerhill inspired the main goal I chose: to create a more humane and effective living environment than most people thought possible.
Many are better endowed than I. At Harvard, I was below average in intelligence, diligence, maturity, and ability to focus. To the extent I have risen since then, it is because I am willful, bold, flexible, and persistent. Accomplishment is far more a result of will than of natural, social, or financial endowment.
I have taken what seem like great risks. Each time I failed, I came out all right – frequently better than if I had succeeded. Failure often guided me to see and give up mistaken thinking, and to “Turn adversity into opportunity!” I have found that whenever I fail, I can always, and I means always, see the situation in such a way that I gain instead of losing. Someone who thinks this way and acts on it can never be kept down.
My love to you all.
by Ann Prehn
I write. Many of my friends write, really good books that only a few have read. Neil Murphy wrote some of the best stuff ever, but as far as I know, was only published in the now-defunct Harbin Quarterly (see archives for some of Neil’s musings). Writing requires a lot of sacrifice, especially if it’s not your job. The truth is, very few people are lucky enough to get paid for writing what they want to write.
I recently finished writing a novel, my only one, and it took me two and a half years. A conservative estimate is that I averaged five hours a day writing and reading, and spent several thousand on writers’ conferences, editors, and books for research. If my time is worth $10 an hour (the value of an Ithaca Hour), then for 350 days/year, I put in $87,500 in labor. If my time is worth double that, well – you do the math. So conservatively, I’ve got anywhere from $90,000 – $180,000 invested in this book, not to mention eye strain, weight gain, loss of social life, and a neglected homefront. I will have to invest even more if I self-publish, and would have to move a lot of units to cover that kind of scratch.
Two agents actually say they are reading my book – yea! But even if I were lucky enough to be published at someone else’s expense, the going advance for a new writer is $15,000, with low enough royalties to make it unlikely that any more money would be forthcoming. Unless you’re J. K. Rowling, you’re definitely not writing for the money, or even for being read.
Of course, if you’re like me, you write anyway. We’re not writers, but we write – only the Muse knows why.
Fortunately, there’s a group at Harbin for our kind of misfit. It’s called Elyseum, and it meets on Sundays at 6pm. As I mentioned in a previous blog, some of Elyseum’s writing is available to read in the Harbin Restaurant.
Harbin has groups for other kinds of misfits, too – lots of them: Acting, singing, drumming, art, howling at the moon. If there are things you feel compelled to do and not just for money, check us out.
Meanwhile, if you write but aren’t a writer, maybe I’ll see you on Sunday.
[Neil passed on May 28, 2013. Whether you knew him or not, you may enjoy some of his writings from the Harbin Quarterly. Ann]
THE BUCKET LIST
By Cornelius Murphy
We love making lists. We all do it. Writers make epic lists. There’s the dreaded “Honey, Do…” list. There are check lists for this or that exercise. The lists often begin: “Things to do…”; then we add: “before we leave for Bangladesh”; “before I graduate; …get married; …turn forty”. In the case of my latest list it’s “before I kick the bucket”. Nothing new; you’ve probably seen the movie.
As a youth I was a pretty fair athlete, playing baseball and football in the sandlot and later playing soccer in college. As an adult I have been an aficionado of sport in its myriad forms, and lately a fan of world football, or “footie” as the English call soccer.
There’s a saying in England: “Some people see Football as a matter of life and death. It’s much more important than that.” Watching the footie and the footie reportage on television, one gets a hint of what that’s about. It is obvious that there is a ritual dimension to European sport that is unknown in this country. American sportswriters are always struck and a bit bewildered by it. Before a game, the fans in their thousands all stand and sing the team anthem. Tears misting the eyes of burly longshoremen and truckers are not unusual. Imagine, grown human beings of every stripe and social stratum singing a sometimes very silly song for no reason that makes any sense, and getting misty-eyed in the bargain. I put it on the bucket list: Go to a game of footie and sing my lungs out.
As luck would have it, on a recent trip to Germany our nephew Mike got us tickets to a game at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Elke would have none of it. “No sir. Drunks and hooligans will be raising no end of hell and barfing all over the subway. I grew up in this town. Been there, done that, thank you very much.” I would have argued that this was an opportunity to see things in a new light, but I’m very tedious when I lecture; I bore even myself.
On the morning of the game, we rode to the stadium in a train packed with fans, every one of whom clutched a twenty ounce bottle of beer. Most were decked out in fan regalia: team flags as sarongs; team scarves draped fore and aft; team caps and toques. There was no rowdiness or hooliganism, there was merely a benign and good natured booziness. At the stadium, the beer kiosks outside did a brisk business as we leisurely found our way inside and to our seats.
It seemed like any other day at the ballpark until it happened, and I don’t know how it happened. One minute we were in our seats looking this way and that, waiting for the game to start, and in the next we were all on our feet, facing the playing field. No one fussed with their stuff or fussed over their kids; the beer and pretzel vendors suspended business and stood at attention. Fans of the visiting team stood as well, in respectful silence, like Protestant visitors at a Catholic High Mass. All seventy five thousand of us sang. We sang long and we sang loud. It was moving and a bit thrilling and it was a gas.
Now, I could have gone just as easily to the Kentucky Derby and sung “My Old Kentucky Home. I could have gone to Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes and sung Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, something that will bring a tear to the eye of a New Yorker every time. No, it wasn’t tearful, boozeful song that lured me to Olympic Stadium, and it had little to do with the footie. It was the opportunity to go native: the bane of every colonial administration; the nightmare that haunts the parents of teenagers on European holiday; the siren song heard by sailors in ports like Pape’ete, Mombasa or Surabaya since men have gone to sea. Going native is what separates the traveler from the tourist.
It was not so long ago that to travel any significant distance was to go at a walking pace. The pioneers pretty much walked from St. Louis, Missouri to Sacramento or Santa Fe or wherever. Marco Polo walked to China and back. I’ll bet he came back speaking a passel of languages and having eaten stuff his mother warned him never to touch. Marco and the pioneers were travelers, writ large. They went native of necessity; they did as the locals did and ate as the locals ate as a means of survival. Lists they might have made could have begun with “Things to do to keep from getting dead”. Those would have been, in the end, a kind of bucket list.
Since I’m fast approaching my three score and ten, survival is hardly an issue. I’m also not one to live in, or give a second thought to, the worst-case-scenario. I prefer simply to be moved and thrilled these days, to do something to put a smile to my face and a lilt to my step: grab a bottle of beer, get on the train with the hooligans and be damned. That’s the kind of thing that belongs on the bucket list. As I write this, I have re-titled it. It now reads: “Things I Can Do to Remind Myself I’m Alive”.
STILL LIFE WITHOUT WOODPECKER
by Cornelius Murphy
An acorn fell at my feet the other day, and I was suddenly struck by how quiet it was. Sure, there was the whir and gurgle of the laundry, the hum of refrigerator compressors, a carpenter insistently driving a nail; but something was missing. I looked up into a walnut tree whose upper branches are all rotten, a tree where one usually finds acorn woodpeckers, and noticed they weren’t there. Ever since I’ve lived here, acorn woodpeckers have made that tree their playground and larder. In the autumn, they’d drill a hole in the rotten wood, fly off to an oak, harvest an acorn, fly back to the walnut and tap the acorn into the hole they’d made. Some, it seemed, would spend their time sorting the acorns, making sure they were in holes appropriate to their size. For the rest of the year they would eat, socialize, and raise families up there. All this industry, these comings and goings, were accompanied by a laugh-like call that sounded like a high pitched “kvetch-kvetch-kvetch”. That day there was silence.
Of course, they may come back when there are acorns to harvest, the one that fell at my feet being simply a leftover from last year. That they are not here now does not worry me so much as does the willingness to be afraid they won’t ever come back. I notice myself being altogether too ready to strike a pompous posture, point my finger, and hurl anathemas at ecological criminals who infest the woodwork. It’s an easy thing to do these days.
A more difficult thing is to imagine this world devoid of all life, although somewhere in the dim reaches of the past such a condition did indeed exist. A couple of billion or so years ago conditions on this planet simply would not support any kind of life. And then, one day, there it was. Around five hundred and fifty million years ago, during what the palaeontologists call the Cambrian explosion, the earth teemed with life in what would be to us unimaginable forms (they’re nearly unimaginable to the paleontologists who study them). In the intervening eons the history of life has been punctuated by mass extinctions that have, on more than one occasion, eliminated almost all forms of life on the planet. Life, obviously, has a habit of bouncing back.
The aforementioned extinctions, however, were probably occasioned by cosmic-scale catastrophes: collisions with comets or asteroids. These days we may be faced with the beginnings of a mass extinction occasioned by the actions of an individual animal and its domesticated beasts: Homo sapiens (a self-styled “intelligent species”); the small predators he keeps as pets; and the ruminants he collects in herds. Of course, there is some precedent for this kind of thing. When the land bridge connecting North and South America formed, placental mammals from North America migrated south, totally displacing and rendering extinct an entire fauna of marsupial animals. One survivor of that invasion, the opossum, cleared out, traveled north, and thrives even here.
There was no “intelligent species” among the South American marsupials to posture and protest. And while we have no shortage of posturers and protesters among Homo sapiens, the sad fact remains that the planet is losing a species every few minutes. The hardest thing to swallow is that there’s little difference between what Homo sapiens and company is doing to the planet today and what our less sophisticated placental cousins did in South America so long ago. The fact is that life is going about the business of life, red in tooth and claw, as it has always done.
Slashing and burning or posturing and protesting, Homo sapiens makes the same mistake: taking itself and its place in the history of life too seriously. Slashing and burning, it arrogantly views nature as an enemy to be conquered and tamed. Posturing and protesting, in love with its cleverness and resilience, convincing itself that it is “intelligent”, it arrogantly forgets that it is just another placental animal trying to make a living.
I’ve heard it said that life is a natural consequence of existence, that life is immanent in the universe and that it becomes manifest when conditions are ripe. A wondrous thing. For then there is no such thing as not-life. The heads-and-tails of it is not life/death or life/not-life. There is life-immanent and there is life-manifest; these are the two sides of the coin. Life and death, extinction and repopulation, are just two aspects of life-manifest, two marks on the same side of the coin. They are life itself; they’re the same thing.
I’ll try to keep these things in mind as I trudge up the hill toward the baths this evening, but I’ll worry a little anyway. I miss the “kvetch, kvetch” of the acorn woodpeckers.
The Harbin Quarterly Magazine ceased printing last December. After twenty-eight years, who missed it? Not many, it seems; perhaps as some implied, it was antiquated. It certainly used a lot of paper.
There is a place, however, where the Quarterly’s demise was noted and sincerely regretted – the Harbin Restaurant. Five bundles a week went out of there. People liked to sit on the deck or in the morning sunlight that streams through the East-facing windows, and read the Quarterly over their organic breakfasts. (One could perhaps go upstairs to the internet cafe that’s behind the coffee shop, and read The Harbin Post, but it’s not quite the same thing.)
Well, leave it to Harbin literary buffs to fill the void. This month sees the advent of the Cynefin (google it), available only in the Restaurant, stuffed with poetry and musings about Harbin and the inner truths of Harbin residents and guests.
So now there is new literary excellence to go with sunshine and coffee, delectable culinary masterpieces, and the always wonderful art show on the walls. What could be better? (Well, maybe a massage and a soak.)
There’s always a sense of expectation when Harbin’s founder, Ishvara, enters the room. He’ll be 80 this month; his limp is more pronounced, his posture less upright, his hand has a slight tremor and his voice rasps. His eyes, however, are as clear as ever, piercing blue, kindly and formidable at the same time. For those of us who have lived here awhile, the impact of Ishvara’s creation on our lives summons respect and reverence. For new residents, he and his creation are an enigma, and they wonder whether they should stay, whether Harbin will live up to their hopes and ideals. Especially the younger ones are full of questions about community and the 9,000 acres of land that Harbin caretakes. They look at Harbin’s perceived shortcomings and look to Ishvara for answers. Such a group of new residents was present in the Ministers Training class that met with Ishvara recently to discuss his book, Oneness in Living.
When I came to Harbin 26 years ago, I had the same trepidation that the newbies do now, so I recognized the veiled and careful form of the questions that were put to him. “How does Harbin live up to your original vision? Is there anything that disappoints you?” I surmised the questioners were really saying what they say more openly to each other: “Why isn’t Harbin solar? Why don’t we grow more of our own food?”
In the past, Ishvara would have understood the implied criticism. Depending on his mood, he might even have been defensive. But time has softened him, and the firebrand of old has become a mellow man. I knew this, but I was not prepared for his reply. His eyes filled with tears and his voice choked. “Harbin is so much better than I ever could have imagined,” he said. “Especially the people. I never imagined such good people would come here.”
With those few words, his audience suddenly saw through his eyes the magnificent and impossible changes that had gone before, the dilapidated resort around a sacred springs that Ishvara bought in 1972 and has become an unsurpassed place of spiritual healing.
Some of the young people in the Ministers Training that night will stay at Harbin and are destined to make more magnificent and impossible changes happen. It is their vision and ideals that will shape the future, inspired by and building on the accomplishments of the past.
Happy 80th year, Ishvara, and thank you so much for creating Harbin.
~Ann Prehn, Editor of the Harbin Post
In this connected world of social media, it’s easy to get addicted to seeing what others are doing, and wondering if we are “missing out.” Check out an alternative viewpoint in this blog posting, exploring the Joys Of Missing Out…